Did you know that Canada has a Paris? Paris, Ontario is located just down the road from Scotland and not too far from Cambridge. If you want to take a road trip you can also pop into Copenhagen en route to London before checking out Dublin and Luxemburg. Ontario clearly wants to be a little Europe! But, contrary to popular belief, Paris, Ontario was not named after Paris, France. It got its name from the gypsum deposits that lay along the Grand River which runs through town. The gypsum was used to create Plaster of Paris to make walls and ceilings and hence the town became known as Paris.
Dave and I moved to Paris, Ontario last year and love calling this picturesque community our home. It has been named the Prettiest Little Town in Canada, and with it being located just 1 hour and 20 minutes from Toronto, Paris has become a very popular day trip for people wishing to escape the city. If you are looking for a great weekend getaway or even just a day of exploring these are all the things to do in Paris, Ontario.
Things to do in Paris Ontario
Paris, Ontario totally surprised me. I grew up not too far away from here and hadn’t returned for more than 20 years. Dave grew up just up the road in Burlington and had never been here before! It was never on our radar, but after coming to look at houses with my parents before the pandemic, we found ourselves buying one of our own instead! This isn’t the Paris (or Brant County for that matter) that I knew growing up. Paris now has contemporary restaurants, cool boutique shops, and plenty of outdoor adventures to be had along the Grand River. So let’s get ready to dive in!
1. Kayak the Grand River
We moved to Paris in the height of the pandemic so we had a lot of time to explore the outdoors. We had no idea the Grand River was so popular but it is one of the premier kayaking destinations in the province. Kayakers can put their kayaks in anywhere in Paris where they can float to Brantford or, our favourite route is to put in at Glen Morris (11 km away) and kayak back into town.
One big catch is that you need two cars. We loaded up our kayaks in my brother’s truck, dropped us off at the launch point. We then drove the truck to Paris where we left it at the portage point in Paris at Penman’s Dam and then drove back to leave our car at Glen Morris. Yes, it’s complicated, but paddling one way is so much easier than having to paddle for a bit and then paddle again upstream.
If you don’t have kayaks or two cars you can book kayaking trips with Grand River Rafting CompanyGrand Experiences offers kayaking and canoe trips on the Grand and Nith Rivers. You can also book shuttles or do what others we talked to have done – just phone a taxi to take you back to you car!
2. Tube the Grand River
If kayaking isn’t your thing, river tubing is very popular on the Grand. Tubers can put in at all sorts of launch pads along the Grand, but the best is to launch downtown Paris and float to the Brant Conservation area. Two cars are required for this as well, but you can also get shuttles with Grand River Rafting. Other people have told us that they hire taxis to shuttle as well. And that is a fantastic idea. Grand River Rafting offers Turbo Tubing rentals and tours. PS – we recommend having paddles with your even for tubing to be able to steer through rapids and obstacles.
Hot Tip – Brant Blue Canoe Token
If you book an experience with one of the two Grand River outfitters – Grand Experiences or Grand River Rafting you’ll receive special deals at participating Paris, Ontario vendors. When you complete your tour, they’ll give you a Brant Blue Canoe Token that can be used. Details here.
3. Rafting the Grand River
We have paddled and SUP (stand up paddleboard) along the Grand River but we see whitewater rafters go by all the time. Grand River rafting isn’t massive whitewater like Ottawa Whitewater rafting, but it could be a fun trip for families where you’ll go through a few obstacles. Plus there is swimming and beaches to pull off and the scenery is beautiful. If you are traveling with a group, this would be fun trip to do.
4. Go Fishing
Penman’s Dam is the “wow” attraction in Paris, Ontario. The other day we went for a walk by the dam and a couple from Windsor told us it was their first visit to Paris and they couldn’t believe how beautiful this town is. We were standing at Penman’s Dam and noticed that it really is a beautiful location and felt proud when they told us they wanted to move here. There are fishing holes all around Paris on the Grand and Nith Rivers and Paris is a popular spot for fly fishing too. The conditions are nearly perfect on the Grand with running shallow waters. You can book Fly fishing with Fly Water Guiding in Paris here.
5. Picnic at Penman’s Dam
Paris is the location where two rivers meet. The Grand and The Nith. Penman’s Dam was built in 1918 to harness the Grand Rivers’ power to run the Penman Clothing Company. It is a picturesque spot for a picnic as people bask in the sun on the banks. It’s a place to meet and talk to people as many people are lounging with their kayaks and tubes waiting for their rides. There is a picnic table here, but only one. Penman’s Dam is the place portage over the dam with canoes and kayaks. There is a beautiful boardwalk leading down to the Grand River and you can watch the paddlers come in regularly all summer long.
6. Rent Canoes At Penman’s Dam
You don’t have to do a major paddling trip to enjoy the Grand River in Paris, you can rent canoes and kayaks right downtown to putter around and explore the river in town. The Grand River meets up with the Nith River downtown Paris and when you go under the bridge, you can explore there as well. Walk back behind the Cobblestone Pub on Grand River Street and you’ll see canoes and kayaks for rent at Grand Experiences located on Grand River Street downtown. (It’s also a great spot to grab a beer overlooking the Grand.
7. Hub of Ontario Trails
The cycling is amazing from Paris. From downtown Paris (and our house!) we can cycle to Port Dover (a popular beach town on Lake Erie), Ancaster and Hamilton. (We’ve even competed in the Paris to Ancaster race in the past. Can’t wait until it opens up again for racing so we can kick butt this time! )
The Hub of Ontario Trails is located not too far from Paris at Brant’s Crossing. From here, you can choose which direction to go. The trails are free from cars, they go through conservation areas, and along rivers and they are well maintained with park benches and interactive signs along the way. The real bonus is that the trails are not too crowded like the trails in Toronto.
8. Cycling Trails of Paris
If you are coming to Paris, Ontario pack your bikes because the trails are fantastic. There is cycling all along the Grand River too all the way to Cambridge. The path is a great double-track, hard-packed trail that has many viewpoints and pull-offs. Downtown Paris is bike-friendly and there is even an interactive hiking and cycling path in leaving from Lions Park. Dave and I cycle pretty much every day we are home. You can rent bicycles from Grand Experiences located downtown on Grand River Street.
9. Hike the Trans Canada Trail
You don’t have to pack your bike when coming to Paris to enjoy the outdoors. Many of the trails that cyclists us are also used for hiking. Leaving from Lions Park, you can go hiking along the Nith River and Distillery Trail. From downtown Paris at the Grand River Bridge, you can hop on the Grand River Trail and follow the path all the way to Cambridge. If you want you can hike all the way to Brantford to the Hub of Ontario. We have seen many deer, bald eagles, groundhogs and plenty of rabbits, squirrells and chipmunks on the trail.
10. Lions Park
Lions Park is our favourite place to cut through when we are going to Paris. Insider tip: There is plenty of parking here and it is a lovely walk through the park to downtown Paris. The park has a swimming pool, picnic tables and jungle gyms, an amphitheater, and hiking trails. The interactive trail along the Nith River is a great walk that takes you to another bridge into downtown.
11. Lookout Over the Grand River
If you have come into town for some shopping or dining, you can view the Grand River from the lovely lookout located on Paris Main Street. There are plaques dedicated to the generous donors and there is a park bench to sit and enjoy the view.
12. Shop Local at Paris Wincey Mills
Wincey Mills is a lovely weekend market that is filled with local food stalls and boutique shopping. We love popping in to see what’s new and restocking our pantry. Wincey Mills dates back to 1889 and they have kept the historic structure that has been in operation for more than a century. We love picking up local cheese, jams, and olive oil when shopping at Wincey Mills. You can also grab a quick lunch in there as well.
13. Shopping and Galleries
When touring around Ontario, everyone loves to pop into boutique stores to shop local. Paris, Ontario has a lot of charming stores to check out.
Get Your Calm on at Wabi Crystals – Located across from the Arlington HotelGet Some Art at Bohemian Gallery Paris – Located beside Wabi Crystals Piper and Oak is my favourite place to shop for furniture and home decorThe Gem Market Place is a cool boutique shop offering hand made designs. Home Hardware – Even the Paris Home Hardware has charming stuff for the house. Check it out!
14. Paris Museum
We haven’t been able to go into the Paris Museum since moving here. It’s been closed for all of COVID (as far as we could tell) But when things get back into full swing, this is going to be our first stop. But they do have a website with information and you can use their Cobblestone tour map to see the Cobblestones of Paris. Get it here.
15. Cobblestone Tour
We had no idea that Paris was the Cobblestone Capital of Canada until we moved here. But Paris is home to 13 cobblestone buildings. When walking through Paris, keep an eye out for the cobblestone buildings. If you want to book a tour (when things open up again) the Paris Museum offers walking tours. It is said that it required 14,000 Cobblestones to build one house. The Cobblestones were all taken from the Nith and Grand Rivers, but you’d never know it, these bodies of water are still very rocky.
16. Get Ice Cream at the Paris Bakery
One of our favourite things to do in Paris Ontario is the take a stroll with coffee in hand. The Paris Bakery has excellent coffee and cappuccino. You can get donuts, cookies, and pastries as well, but we just love grabbing a coffee to do some window shopping.
17. Ice Cream Chocolate Sensations
There are often line-ups out the door at Chocolate Sensations located on Grand River Street. They not only serve delicious gourmet chocolate treats, they also have fantastic ice cream. No visit to Paris would be complete without going inside to stock up on decadent candy.
18. What’s the Scoop
If lines are too long at Chocolate Sensations, go around the corner to What’s the Scoop. A lot of people would argue that their ice cream is even better! It’s not located on the main street, so chances of having a shorter line are good.
19. Twisted Treats
When you are heading out of town via Rest Acres Road, stop in at Twisted Treats for ice cream for the road. They are a lot like Dairy Queen with soft-serve delicious treats. But they are a fraction of the price. This is our go-to ice cream shop in Paris, Ontario.
20. Enjoy the Patio of Stillwaters Plate and Pour
Stillwaters Plate and Pour is the most popular restaurant in Paris with a huge patio. With COVID, the patio seats have been in high demand, so if you are coming to Paris for a day trip, be sure to book your table well in advance. The restaurant is great with a beautiful view of the Grand River and chic menu. We couldn’t believe that there was such a downtown-style vibe restaurant right here in our little town. But then we read that the owners are from the Food Network’s Top Chef Canada. It lives up to their theme of creating a mix of comfort, fun, and elegance.
21. Have Pizza and a Pint on the Patio of Capeesh
Stillwaters isn’t the only hot spot in town though. Capeesh is located next door and it is just as good as Stillwaters. There is a fantastic patio (that nobody seems to know about) a great menu and a similar vibe to Stillwaters. Specializing in handmade pizza, Capeesh also has a little bit of everything. Greek, Indian, Thai, it has it all. There are 2 riverside patios, a bar, lounge, and an indoor dining room.
22. Dine at 2 Rivers
2 Rivers is the most underrated of restaurants in Paris. Maybe because Stillwaters is so popular and Capeesh is right next door, but 2 Rivers also has a fantastic patio on the Grand, it has an extensive bistro-style menu and it even has some live music. Be sure to check them out!
23. Cobblestone Public House
Cobblestone Public House is yet another restaurant/pub located directly on the Grand River in downtown Paris, Ontario. It is definitely more of a pub fare than the other restaurants with the regular pub favourites on hand. They have a riverside patio, bar, and indoor dining. Its sister restaurants are Stillwaters and Capeesh. (I just learned that when visiting their website while writing this post!)
24. Paris Beer Company
The Paris Beer Company is located in the back of Wincey Mills Market and their patio overlooks the Nith River and Lion’s Park. If all the restaurants on the Grand are full, make your way to Wincey Mills and order a flight on the patio. They have a taproom and tasting room and you can pick up some bottles to take home with you. You can also order food from their full menu.
25. Enjoy Fine Dining at Juniper
We haven’t had the chance to eat here yet, but when we first moved to Paris, it was at the top of our list of things to do. COVID changed all that, but dining at the Juniper still remains high on our to do list. They have a patio too albeit it isn’t located on any river and is only situated in the parking lot. I think I’ll leave this one for a romantic meal out at night.
Bonus Paris Attractions
26. Pop Over to the Bell Homestead
Brant County is famous for being the place where the telephone was invented by Alexander Graham Bell. While it is about a 15 minute drove to the Bell Homestead in Brantford from Paris, you still should include it on your Paris, Ontario Itinerary. Besides, you will be able to round out your historic tour with the Bell Homestead in Brantford and its Paris connection. Fun Fact: Alexander Graham Bell made his first long-distance phone call to the Robert White Shoe Store in Paris, Ontario. Visit the Dominion Telegraph Event Centre on Grand River Street (Paris Main Street) at William Street.
27. Elberta Farms
One last place to mention before you leave Paris. Elberta farms is Located just outside of Paris. This is our local farm where Dave and I get all our produce. There is nothing better than fresh from the farm fruits and vegetables. But they also sell pies, jams, cheese and maple syrup. Before heading back to the city, stock up on fresh Canadian vegetables and goodies that you simply cannot get in downtown urban centres.
Where to Stay in Paris Ontario
The Arlington Hotel – The Arlington Hotel is pretty much the only proper hotel in Paris, Ontario. (unless you are friends with Dave and I and stay at Chez PlanetD haha) but even if you are not staying over, you must eat in their dining room at Edit Restaurant. Or have drinks on the patio. Their patio is unfortunately in a parking lot, but they have done a nice job decorating it with shrubs and trees. People love the Arlington Boutique hotel for its theme rooms. You can book and see reviews on TripAdvisor
The Carriage House Flat – This BnB has been newly renovated and is located in a grand heritage home. The four rooms have a fireplace, TV, Netflix and Internet.
ASA Wolverton House – is a historic carriage house converted into a BnB that sleeps up to six people. It includes a kitchenette.
How to Get to Paris, Ontario
So where is Paris, Ontario anyway? Paris, Ontario is located about 90 minutes west of downtown Toronto along the 403 in Brant County. (we’ve made it to our doctor’s office in the West end of Toronto in less than an hour!)
Paris is just 10 minutes west of Brantford and 30 minutes west of Hamilton Ontario. It is also 40 minutes south of Kitchener. So, in a nutshell, Paris is a very central location in Southern Ontario. To get to Paris you can either take the Paris Road exit or the Rest Acres Road exit from the 403 and head north.
Parking in Paris, Ontario
Parking in Paris is getting very crowded so arrive early if you want to enjoy the day. There is a parking lot behind the main street which is Grand River Street. Look for the Rexall drug store and go in behind there.
There is also parking at Lions Park. You can get to Lion’s Park by exiting at the Rest Acres Road exit towards Paris. When you come to Highway 2 (aka King Edward Street) turn right at the lights and then make a left onto Dundas Street. You will then make an immediate right onto Laurel Street. Other parking can be found at Penman’s Dam Park.
And there you have it folks! All of the best things to do in Paris Ontario…that we know of so far. As restrictions lift and we get out exploring more, I am sure that we will discover more amazing Paris attractions in our home town. If you come to Paris, shoot us a message. Maybe we’ll be in town and we can meet you at Stillwaters!
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